Friday, April 26, 2013

Meet Sasscer Hill and learn how mystery series are made

I'm delighted to welcome Sasscer Hill, author of the upcoming mystery, The Sea Horse Trade (reviewed here) to my blog today. I was lucky enough to read the book and interview the author before the book's release date. So watch out for sea horses making their debut at the Aiken, SC Library tomorrow, though they're planning a much bigger splash at the Malice Domestic conference next week. If you're attending the conference, don't miss Sasscer speaking on a panel called "Mysteries With Sex Crimes" on May 5th with three other authors including mega best seller, Laura Lippman! I hope you have a really great time Sasscer!

So, my first question... This novel is the third in the series but I found it easy to read without having read any others before. I’m curious about how you decide which characters should recur when writing a series.
I don’t really “decide” I just think of a story idea and then it will come to me at some odd moment – taking a shower, drying my hair, walking the dog – who I need for the story. In the case of  THE SEA HORSE TRADE, I had thought about young Lorna Doone, and discarded the idea. She had enough troubles in RACING FROM DEATH. I loved the character from FULL MORTALITY, Carla Ruben. But how could she fit into a story about the illegal sex trade? Carla’s thirty and too old to be snatched by those horrific people involved the business of selling girls for sex. But what if she had a thirteen-year-old daughter? A girl she’d never met because she’d given up the baby when she herself was a teenager? Suppose the girl had suddenly gone missing, and was last seen near Hallandale Beach where Nikki has just arrived to work the Gulfstream Park racetrack meet? And just suppose a beautiful, unidentified, young woman dressed in a tiny sequined outfit is gunned down on the street at Nikki’s feet? OMG! Now I had something I was excited about, and if I’m not excited, how can I expect the reader to be?                             

You certainly inspired some excitement in this reader. I know nothing at all about racehorses but you managed to make the horses and their environment very real without overwhelming me in details. How do you get that balance right when you’re dealing with a topic you know so well?

I read every book written by the two master horse story tellers: Walter Farley of the “Black Stallion” series and Dick Francis, the fellow who wrote such wonderful horse racing novels. They were my teachers. Francis even read the first three early chapters of FULL MORTALITY and gave me his comments.

As I write, I try to keep is simple. People don’t want to have a dictionary and reference books in their laps just to read a mystery.

That's very true. They want a character to follow and a story to lead them I guess, which leads to my next question. Where did your lead character, Nikki Latrelle, come from? Is she based on someone real, someone you’d like to know, or pure imagination?

Nikki is based on me when I was young and depended on my love for horses to make the world a good place to live. Horses are wonderful creatures who will teach anyone to live by the golden rule. If you treat them with love and kindness, you will get it back.

And I’ve always been a bit of a loner, so it was easy to create the character. Nikki is someone I would like to know – she’s better than I am.

She's certainly interesting and believable, as were the locations, police procedures, modes of death etc. How much research went into writing them?
Being both a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America provides me with fabulous resource material for any crime story I might want to write. But the most important thing for me, is to actually go to the police department or investigator’s office who would deal with the crime in the actual local where the crime or crimes are committed. For the Sea Horse Trade I met with Officer Anthony Maniglia of the Hallandale Beach Police Department, Homicide Division. I also briefly reviewed part of the plot with a helpful DEA agent who works in Washington, D.C. I just love it when I meet with someone like Maniglia, review procedure of their particular locale, and then some busybody says, “Oh that would never happen like that in a police department.” When you write, you need to arm yourself with facts because the nay sayers are convinced they know more than anyone else.

That makes sense. So... I’m guessing your primary aim is to entertain, and this novel is a thoroughly enjoyable read. But is there a message you’d like readers to take away from Nikki’s conquering adversity?

Yes, Sheila, there is: Chase your dream, fight the odds, and always help the helpless.

What a lovely aim! Thank you. Did you always know you were going to write a series, or did it grow from a single book?
It grew from the first book, FULL MORTALITY. That led to the next two novels. It is far easier to use characters you’ve already developed and know like the back of your hand than to start all over again. I know this, because I am working on a new series character named Fia McKee, who is a law enforcement agent in the world of horse racing. And yes, in case you were wondering, Sheila, I have already met with the top two officers of this actual US agency.

That sounds great. I can certainly see why the Sea Horse Trade felt so convincingly real, with so much reality behind it. And I'm sure your new series will be great too. One final question. What advice would you give aspiring writers? I know, everyone probably asks that, but all those nuggets help.

My message to them would, of course, be to chase your dream and fight the odds, for they will be against you. But if you follow your heart, it is amazing how far you can go.

Thank you so much, Sheila, for the opportunity to post my thoughts on your most excellent blog site!

Thank you so much for answering my questions so beautifully. I really enjoying having the chance to get to know you better, and to see a little more of what happens behind the scenes of a series. Good luck with the release, and I hope you have a great time at the conference!

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